Thursday, December 29, 2016

Bare Trees (Van Gogh), Sonnet #330

I came upon an old woman in black,
Holding in her gloved hands an ocre oud.
The leafless trees seemed a mind-twisted wrack
As she passed underneath them with a word
Not a word, which I could still understand.
A branch scratched me with an arthritic hand.
I walked beneath soft shrieking of the elms,
The ancient ruins of defeated realms.
Some trees seemed older, but with memories,
Synaptic limbs full of ageless stories.
(The language of trees muffles in summer --
All leaf, bud and blossom, they turn mummer.)
I listened to rachitic damns and praise
Of those with many, not unnumbered days.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Ornament, Sonnet #329

For Julia Rose and Alice Bea Guerin

Tomorrow is Christmas, the heart’s havoc
With delight. Downstairs, the unnatural tree,
Will, like it does every year, evoke
With molded glass and light, such memories.
Will my daughters quite see this ornament?
Will they see, as I once watched, what seemed
For hours, the orb darkened by tinseled boughs,
Radiating needles, laden and bent,
The improbable crystal spark moonbeam,
Still, silent as time itself? I think how
They might even see the heart that moved hands
To place it there, in the long vanished lands
Of youth and time they now fill, sweetening
The earth and holding back beauty’s fleeting.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Las Meninas (Diego Velázquez), Sonnet #328

We all had nothing but art on our walls.
Tapestries, paintings, were consolation
Against the cold air's infiltration.
We wore overcoats and our women shawls.
The richest of us had painters employed
To make idols of our wives and children,
And to depict us as the handsome men
We weren't before our youth could be destroyed.
We were lords! Little ladies in waiting
Were equally fit subjects for the oils,
The poor things, our little princesses' foils.
The fools felt loved asked to pose for painting.
I myself died, mistaken for a hart,
An arrow in my neck -- a work of art.

Note: Las Meninas translates as "The Ladies in Waiting."

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Narmer Palette (3,000 B.C.), Sonnet #327

It's said Pharaoh spoke in twittering rhyme
Due to his lacking a crucial enzyme,
Because he ate off of a golden plate
What he'd repeatedly regurgitate.
His crown was golden too, a heavy weight
He wore a rug beneath to soothe his pate.
He smote his enemies with a scepter,
A wand of lead he called his "preemptor."
He had a single rigid policy:
"I'll destroy you before you can hurt me."
That was more than five thousand years ago.
This palette is all that's left of Pharaoh.
They say he ruled a united Egypt,
Leaving nothing not ravaged, empty, or ripped.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Fallen Tree Cluster, Sonnet #326

The five ash trees wove themselves a tight bole
And the borer stripped them from the top limb.
They toppled in last summer's derecho,
Roots all root hair, leaving a shallow hole,
Some dirt and gravel with hardly a rim --
A shout into it would yield no echo.
The Emerald Borer will soon be gone
When the number of ash trees left is none,
The pests all starved out, their only work done.
The fault lies with the ashes as well,
Their clumps of tiny roots why they fell
When they might have had a few years to thrive
(The borer's slow to eat its prey alive),
If they'd grown up alone, not one of five.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Rainbow, Sonnet #325

The arc of broken light, an extension
Of the eye. Thought is the fifth dimension.
Does "only what we know exists" make sense?
It would take a metaphysical stretch
To think the oath of this shimmering sketch
Was kept. All the floods of evanesence,
The drowning waters of time, death and hate,
Pour down and ravage and evaporate
Each day -- leaving behind only rainbows.
How days are made only each of us knows.
The beauty there is the harder question.
We are not mocked and there's no suggestion
Of imperfection -- we see only love
Made of light, not here, not here, but above.

Note: The rainbow was the sign of God's promise
to Noah that he would not flood the world again.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Snakes (Escher), Sonnet #324

The serpent has a god within his mind,
Implanted there, symmetrically timed,
An eternal One that thought cannot find,
Like the only word that cannot be rhymed.
He can't chase down his prey beneath the wood
Without enough heat running through his blood
Firing his muscles, the tip of his tongue,
Engorging the once cold sac of his lung.
The fire in his eyes has another source,
A being without hate, fear or remorse,
An idea burning borealic cold,
An essence, call it endlessness or will
That even the death of the snake can't kill.
The fabled Big Bang's not nearly so old.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Seventh Plague: Hail and Fire (John Martin), Sonnet #323

It froze us in small blocks of ice
And rolled us down the streets like dice.
It melted us with filthy light
And left us purified of blight,
Exhausted, blameless and alone,
The roaches and pigeons gone.
We never saw a cloud again.
Instead appeared new kinds of men.
They smiled but we ran from them,
From their split tongues and spit venom.
They gladly swallowed the locusts
When they came, as well as our lusts.
The darkness never descended.
The promised end never ended.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Avenue of Poplars in Autumn (Van Gogh), Sonnet #322

The faintest chitter of leaves in the Fall,
The slant auroras beneath the branches,
The blue-gray clouds that are not clouds at all,
But cloudless sky the fading light blanches,
The warmth and the chill I feel on my cheeks
As sunned and unsunned breezes alternate,
Each gust not finding what the other seeks,
And not one beast seeking to find a mate.
Today I walk this ordered avenue
Until the moon tops the furthest poplar.
It's so bright I can't see a single star,
A Milky Way I cannot know, but knew.
I reach home as the shadows slip away.
Only the moon's been moved enough to stay.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Sonnet Form

As my Literature grad friends know, there are a number of different kinds of sonnets — Shakespearian, Petrarchan, etc. My sonnets don’t follow any strict rhyme or metrical scheme. Rather, I have a few basic principles I follow and never (hardly ever) violate.

First, any kind of rhyme scheme is okay as long as no rhyme is more than 3 lines apart. For example, ABC ABC is okay: ABC CBA is not, because the “A” rhyme is five lines apart. My theory is that a rhyme ceases to be a rhyme if the two rhyming words are too far apart.

Second, any sonnet can have any mix of rhyme patterns. A single sonnet's scheme can be, for example, ABC ABC DD EE FGGF (or FGFG), or any variation of those. Some sonnets can be all couplets, some three quatrains and a couplet.

I work in three metrical schemes, composed of “feet.” A foot is two beats. Dada dada dada dada dada is five feet. Any poem can be tetrameter (four feet), pentameter (five feet), or six feet (hexameter).

I am not fussy about where the accent lies. Most feet are daDA daDa daDA, with the accent on the second syllable, but I play fast and loose with accents and in almost every instance I have my own reason for doing so, having to do with the meaning or music of the poem.

Finally, I never, never, never (almost hardly ever!) distort syntax in order to rhyme. This is the cardinal sin. For centuries it was okay to back into a rhyme or distort syntax in formal poetry. In other words, it was considered a proper tool of poetry to write not necessarily in the same manner in which we naturally speak. I believe that distorting syntax is the main reason the sonnet, and most formal poetry, fell out of favor in the last century.

I would never back into a rhyme, as Shelley does here in the second and third lines from his "Ode to the West Wind," because that’s not how we talk:

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing...

The poet Rita Dove has written that formal poetry — such as the sonnet — is “a bejeweled casket.” That’s like saying the novel, or the play, or the short story is dead. The sonnet is just one of many, still valid, ways in which to write poetry. If you agree or disagree, I invite your comments.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Ghost of a Flea (William Blake), Sonnet #321

The ghost of a flea is a flea of a ghost.
He haunts my dog with whispered itches
As he has a thousand other bitches.
Every beast is his unconscious host.
I have seen only ghostly human beings,
Not past corporeality, but through them,
Ill motive they're certain I'm not seeing
That sticks from their heads like an apple stem.
At midnight on a beach I saw a cult
Dance in self-abasement around their pastor.
He had power to bring their minds to a halt --
Red hair, white gown, their daemon and master.
I rose and warned them so they trudged away.
Am I their ghost of legend to this day?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Poor Devil by the Fire (Hugo Simberg), Sonnet #320

We caught a silver devil stealing soup.
Naked, sooty, his mouth painted crimson,
He sniffed our dinner's heady steam and sighed.
I pulled my belt and tried to throw a hoop
Over his horn-crowned brow and roped just one.
I yanked him down and soon had him hogtied.
He wriggled and whimpered, then spat and died.
We buried his carcass somewhere outside.
We don't remember where, though we have tried.
Twenty years later we found him at last,
At our soup again, now with thin blue lips,
Tipping the pot and taking little sips.
"Oh, Devil, why have you come back?" we asked.
He said, "I brought you with me from the past."

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Juniper Praising The Moon (D'Arcy Guerin Gue), Sonnet #319

Desiccation praising desolation.
How can things be more beautiful when dead?
Pretty Guinevere in adoration
Of her knight almost lost her pretty head.
Now she reaches for her sad, betrayed king,
As if she'd kiss his dusty lips and sing.
The moon looks down upon the juniper
And sees only petrified conifer.
I once climbed a not unsimilar tree
On a cloudy, starless night in a gale.
The branches cracked and broke and I fell free.
The moon appeared like a ship under sail.
The world is perfect, unbroken, and pure
(Though sad things happen), of this I am sure.

Note: Juniper is a derivation of the Welsh name Guinevere.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Gare Montparnasse, The Melancholy of Departure (Giorgio de Chirico), Sonnet #318

The second hand always departs.
The minute hand always arrives.
The hour hand claps at our lives
With one hand that stops and starts.
We climb the red stone clock tower,
Stare out slits in its white faces.
Its hands are minute and hour,
No second, which just erases,
Like the one on my mantelpiece,
Always threatening my decease.
We need a hand for time to come,
One that whirls while always slowing,
That tells us (since the hour's dumb),
When we'll be without our knowing.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

King Hobgoblin Sleeping (Hugo Simberg), Sonnet #317

I found a hobgoblin in my back yard,
With a possum pillow under his head,
Asleep, surrounded by a thousand kin
Standing in ranks, his imperial guard.
A cricket on a string droned by his bed
Of crepe tucked under his majesty's chin.
His crown (a fool's cap) and truncheon scepter
Were all he owned that made him emperor.
They cast his grandeur and his power spells.
His minions, one by one, exhausted, fell,
Near death, and groaning hauled each other up.
I shouted, "Wake thee! Or you'll interrupt
Your sire's sleep!" Then they all disappeared,
Leaving possum to chew the dead hob's beard.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Wounded Angel (Hugo Simberg), Sonnet #316

We found her nearly conscious under the willow,
Her wings so wet she must have come from the river.
We ripped a strip from her gown's hem and wrapped her brow.
A gash meant to us someone could not forgive her.
We dared not wipe the blood from her broken pinions,
Afraid that it might make us bleed or break our hands.
We remembered stories about the Lord's minions --
How their feathers had beaten mountains into sands.
Our minds blazed awe. She whispered, "No superstitions."
We cut two branches from an ash and made a chair
To carry her. She rose and sat, like light, like air.
She clutched five snowdrops we had taken from her hair.
We asked her how we should go. She pointed
At the river. "There," she said, "We are anointed."

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Bond of Union (Escher), Sonnet #315

For Ruth

They say that only gravity can make an orb,
That when two pliable objects come together,
An attracting force at their centers will absorb
All imbalance, all turbulence, wind and weather,
And even out the distance from center to rim
To form a satisfying equilibrium.
The loves of men and women are beribboned air,
Much that's empty and much almost decorated.
It's up to each to seek the beautiful and fair,
To smile, to look past the moment, sad or sated
(Though we'd wrestle the sun if it would hold the day!),
When the moment is over and has rolled away.
My love, our ribbons tighten and, like gravity,
Have made a single perfectly round you and me.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Stonehenge, Sonnet #314

Perhaps they never finished it.
The stones wouldn't stay put or fit.
The builders grew weary and quit.
Their act of faith was a battle
With a terrible mystery,
The unseen evil, gravity. 
The lifting high of each lintel,
Unsure of a secure seating,
Might have seemed a self-defeating
Act, simply in the repeating.
When we exhausted stone-layers
Fail, do we resort to prayer,
Or abject, wild ululation
In praise of our liberation.  

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Alchymist (Joseph Wright), Sonnet #313

As we turn gold into lead each day,
Alchemists of humors, vapors, and clay --
As we dip our hot dreams into dry ice,
Shocked when our dragons turn out to be mice --
The Lords of Change drift in unseemly sleep,
Snore so loudly we dare not make a peep.
Know who you are, you philosopher's stones,
Elixirless lives and pilotless drones,
You false promisers, prophets of the cloud,
Your cant can't and decants only the loud.
Take but little sips from your retort flask,
And try never to answer, only ask.
You base metals, here's your Magnum Opus --
Rust dust in our eyes, your hocus pocus.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Death and the Miser (Bosch), Sonnet #312

There is one bastard that Death doesn't want --
A man He's content to smilingly haunt,
To gesture that He hasn't forgotten
What comes. "Maybe when your mind's most rotten,"
He whispers from behind the sickroom door.
The man, a murdering conquistador,
And raper of the widows of the poor,
Cut a priest's throat to settle an old score,
And sold babies to feed the king's prize boar.
Delectable crimes for Death -- no reason
Not to take this human in his season.
His disgust was with the miser's grasping
Love of His own hot and eternal sting,
Leaving death for no other living thing.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Spider, Butterfly and Sun (Burchfield), Sonnet #311

No spider ever trapped a butterfly
With joy. Their tasteless wings are a nuisance,
And, thrashing, rip up and clutter his threads.
They take the turning of the earth to die.
The thorax he sucks isn't sustenance,
Not like a caterpillar's juicy breads.
He labors to disentangle the shreds,
Fling them to the wind and throw new weave;
Thus, sun to sun, he can't stay still, deceive
New prey, who run from the trembling web.
He damns the Monarch as his powers ebb.
At last, his lair is ready to receive.
That night a stumbling, great green luna moth
Destroys it with wings of savorless cloth.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Colorful Lightning (Klee), Sonnet #310

The master can show the moon in a storm
If he chooses to -- the answer is why?
Too simple to think for the sake of form,
The willful undermining of the norm.
It's his, this stylus-petted, stepped-down sky.
There's not one cloud. The scarred night air is dry.
Standing outside his miniatures, we stare
At what we can't be sure he meant to share.
One summer, I stood on a factory roof
And watched heat lighting crack the night apart.
The moon penetrated the hazy air
Just once, a blind man, stupid and aloof,
Hardly a subject for a work of art.
The whistle blew and I went down the stairs.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

"Old Busty" (Mihail Chemiakin), Sonnet # 309

They called him "Old Busty" for his bowling ball head
Which he threw at the castle rats and knocked them dead.
The Blue Prince liked to poke his thumbs in his sockets
And press just hard enough OB could see rockets.
The Green Duke begged his father to see a woman.
He petted Dad's purple robe obsequiously
And offered to conjure up a hopeful omen
Of the end of his cranial obesity.
The Prince, ever preoccupied with his big brain,
Could not hear his baby boy's incessant refrain.
"Old Busty," in truth, was named for other reasons,
Long forgotten. He was a she with bumptious breasts,
And once was honored, above all, the sexy best;
No more -- her empty teats fed Blue and Green, her sons.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dream Storage Tank (Michael Antman), Sonnet #308

You feel layers of life of centuries
On Chicago streets, ubiquitous brick
Portraits and both mouthed and shouted stories
Of, not the dead, but spirits, pressed thick
Into the interstices of the air.
We know they are millions, huddling there,
So well hidden it's difficult to care.

How often tuck-pointed, the old brownstone,
Arched windows flattened by a glazier,
An old storage tank topped with a tin cone.
The lives within could not be hazier.
A haloed sweetheart with her mural grin,
Absolves spirit and flesh of painted sin.
The unseen millions breathe, breathe out, breathe in.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Anthropomorphic, Sonnet #307

I've read and seen for myself that seeing
The human face in inanimate things --
A pattern in a floor tile or the rings
In a calm pond disturbed by fish feeding --
Occurs most often and unlooked for when
One has suffered again and again.
I find myself wincing and suddenly
Distracted from pain by another me.
After years of recovery, faces
Appear when I'm tired and oblivious,
Staring, which my staring back erases,
Leaving the abnormally obvious.
An old woman, weeping, wrapped in a cloak,
Is agony inhabiting an oak.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

LOFT (Michael Antman), Sonnet #306

The loft will fall if the foundations rot.
The window frames are already bending.
The masonry, pitted by ageless soot,
Awaits the inevitable rending
Of every pillar and joist underneath --
The spitting of mortar like broken teeth.
Two pairs of women's shorts are on display,
But the lonely workman ignores the show.
Naked legs would only be in his way.
He turns the electric vacuum to blow.
Now he must wait for everything to dry.
He looks up for the first time, starts to cry.
He's sundered by a sweet paralysis.
It's beautiful, he thinks, not sure what is.

This is the third photo by my friend and editor
Michael Antman that I've written about. You can find his
considerable collection of photos at Instagram,
Or, if you're already on Instagram, his username
is michaelantman.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Le Pointe de la Heve at Low Tide (Monet), Sonnet #305

The moon pushing oceans around like that?
Like the wind stripping your head of your hat.
Something a quarter million miles away
Drains our inlets and beaches twice a day,
And pushes oceans out fifty feet higher
To leave rocky steps not dry, but drier.
We walk the muddy flats. Bulbous seaweed
Drapes rock like wigs, hiding crabs, and tide pools
Trap octopi and little fish who feed
Ravenously while the evening cools.
The seagulls plucked the stranded hours ago.
Exhaustion precedes the tide's inward flow.
All is waste and bare, a weak memory,
Soon to be drowned by weaker gravity.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Tiger Lilies, Sonnet #304

For Ruth

They lined the country roads in Illinois.
Great banks of red-orange blossoms, green stems,
And pale pink tubes waiting to splay open --
Our courting flower, this remembered joy.
I drove those roads to see you most weekends
In the battered Mustang I had back then.
Fifty miles of lily-lined road before
I reached the highway, with fifty miles more,
Until I kissed your lips and took your hands,
And walked with you on Lake Michigan sands.
Now the lilies open every July
In our back yard, and up and down the street.
They are one answer to our loving's "why."
Their scent is faint, but unearthily sweet.

Note: The spelling of "unearthily" is not
strictly speaking correct; I'm combining
"earthy" with "unearthly."

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Morning News (Francis Luis Mora), Sonnet #303

The Times is meant to be crumpled in tight places,
Smudged, barely dry print, the yesterdays of faces.
What's done is done when read and forgotten,
And not until. A caveman looms, leers, teeth rotten,
One eye white, as if turned around in its socket,
The other reading about the latest rocket
Planned to reach the nearest star in a century.
He doesn't stir the slightest curiosity
In young women who can't smell him through their perfume.
The scent of ink is stronger. The stink of the tomb
Draws the caveman back into the metro pages,
Which he'll contemplate as his winey blood ages.
The bus slowly empties of papers and people.
A fallen Times lays gutters up like a steeple.

Note: Among other things, "gutter" is the word for the white
space in a newspaper between the print on the left side
and the print on the right side of the crease.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Fall of Icarus (Picasso), Sonnet #302

The sun is father to the father and the son.
Maze-minded Daedalus almost invented Earth;
If it was (and it had to be) born, his reason
Rolled it into a ball of life and roaring mirth.
He knew what was needed, met the exigencies
Of power over nature and control of fate,
The harnessing of the mind and how it foresees,
The imprisoning of evil, the murder of hate.
He must have been a loving father, or a fool,
To fashion wings for his son as well as himself.
We know, he warned the boy, that they were just a tool
To scratch the sky, not calipers to span the gulf
Between dirt and light. The heedless boy died too soon,
To his earth-glad father a stripped and distant moon.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Memory of a Bird (Klee), Sonnet #301

A bird's memory is the memory
Of the bird. We share the same history.
The still bittern stays the marsh grasses
I saw as grass until he flew away.
The starling murmuration amasses
Like ink perturbed in oil in a glass,
Until a red tail hawk blots out a stray.
The pileated woodpecker, the day
I stood in the river and watched him rip
Through a limb, saw nothing below my hip.
I wasn't man to him, and no concern,
Just one more thing he saw not to unlearn.
I feed the birds so they'll remember me,
Returning them my fading memory.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Ars Poetica, Sonnet #300

For Michael Antman

Here is one way others might have put it --
Others, each most certainly a poet:
"A poem is not voice, not It, not words.
A visage stuck on a tree trunk with eyes
That see a face in every disguise,
A barking, one more ring of the absurd."
This face of wood had a blank beginning,
But I see him in the middle of things,
Resigned, but not unconscious of his state.
The light in his dark eyes says, "I am here,
I and no other, and I've seen my fate,
So I have something to say, come nearer."
MacLeish: "A poem should not mean, but be."
No, a poem should be a beam of me.

Note: The Ars Poetica, or poem about The Art of Poetry has a long
tradition going back to Horace. The most famous 20th century
Ars Poetica is by Archibald MacLeish. It's a lovely poem in many ways,
but I've always hated the concluding couplet. I wonder how many 
bad poems have been written and published because of those two lines. 
A well-known critic recently said, by way of advice to poets, "What you
have to say is rubbish. It's how you say it that matters." Rubbish. How 
you say it is important, but if you have nothing to say, or nothing worth 
saying, or what you say is rubbish, then what's the point?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Blind Pew (N. C. Wyeth), Sonnet #299

A knife's as good as a drink to a corpse,
Or so Blind Pew might have said, but he's dead.
How does a blind bastard commit murder?
At night, when everyone is blind, of course.
His senses like an owl's swiveling head,
He'd think, my prey's eyes? Nothing absurder!
A barred owl once perched on my shepherd's hook
Bird feeder -- I watched him for an hour.
He'd scan the ivy by the house, then look
At me, then back where some creature cowered.
His black lusterless eyes looked blind, like holes
Of night in a graying sky, unblinking.
He dropped and flew off with a mouse or vole,
Like Blind Pew, satiated, unthinking.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Sibyl (Edward Burne-Jones), Sonnet #298

The youngest sibyl reads from blank parchment.
What the gods once wrote about tomorrow,
She speaks, not understanding what they meant.
Her voice knows just one key -- that of sorrow.
She says, "You see today, but only dream
Of a next day; between them there's no seam."
When she predicts, her words are all esses,
Sibilant sweet. She names no day or year
(While she beckons you to step nearer)
For the coming of man's final excesses.
She doesn't speak of one man or woman.
She'll say, "There's no individual fate.
You seek from me some personal omen?
Then, for you, Dear, it's already too late."

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Siegfried Tastes the Dragon's Blood (Arthur Rackham), Sonnet #297

Long ago, each dragon had his slayer.
The hoarding of gold was always a crime.
Armed with only a sword and a prayer,
The young knight tracked the serpent by its slime.
Some thought the worm slept on his rug of gold,
Never wakening, but like all creatures,
He must eat -- a lady perhaps, not old,
With pleasing form and nice facial features.
Surprised by the knight while guarding his lair,
The dragon, too sated to run, plunges
Forward as the terrified knight lunges.
His last thought glimmers: "This is not unfair."
The bloody sword drips on the knight's fingers.
He licks them. Only the gold smell lingers.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Odysseus Between Scylla and Charybdis (Henry Fuseli), Sonnet #296

The most treacherous, the fortuitous
Murderers, the spiders -- a whirlpool,
A hanging cliff -- who cannot even hunt,
Must wait the bait, fixed and anonymous,
The passing by of the delicious fool,
Some Odysseus in his pathetic punt.
Homebound, risking the Straits of Messina,
The sailor thought long on stoney Scylla --
Better handsful of mates torn asunder
Than let a rudderless vessel founder.
He straddled the prow with a silver shield
Upraised to fend off raking teeth and claws.
The monsters ignored him and scythed their yield,
Leaving the leader to his selfish cause.

Note: In Greek mythology, Scylla was described as a rock shoal, like a six-headed sea monster, on the Italian side of the Straits of Messina, and Charybdis was a whirlpool off the coast of Sicily. They were regarded as sea hazards so close to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to passing sailors; avoiding Charybdis meant passing too close to Scylla and vice versa.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Birth of Comedy (Max Ernst), Sonnet #295

All are dropped, but do all have a mother?
What wicked womb, illicit phantasm,
Bore forth the stick of laughter's orgasm,
Only to be deliriously smothered
(Unless the comedic had no parent,
Is thoroughly a bastardo, arrant,
A prancer in sexless harlequin pants).
The world's worst gag, he offers as a gift:
A statue of a man biting off a hen's head
Has a crack. Put your hand in there, fall dead.
The moral? "Beware of geeks bearing rifts."
The Eden apple was the world's first joke.
The last will be "water and fire make smoke."
Oh, Comedy, you old world-burdened moke.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Bathers (Picasso), Sonnet #294

The Bathers are seekers, not believers.
(Old Possum and Pound are as dry as rust,
While Frost and Stevens compromise with trust,
And Berryman is a soul deceiver.)
Though the Bathers are not sculpted from sand,
By some moist, cool Heisenbergian hand,
They're happiest on a floating island,
Where they can sit or swim or float or stand.
The Bathers build boats with uneven keels
They steer through sand in concentric circles;
It's easy to make progress when they kneel,
And the boats sometimes produce miracles.
At sandy palimpsests, they dare to peek,
Because (not often) they glimpse what they seek.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

River Bend (photographer unknown), Sonnet #293

I've had this image in my head for years.
Not exactly this place or century,
Or the season (no, that was never clear;
Late summer, early fall, most probably):
The hills smoother, the water cascading
From sand pools to shelves of smooth black granite,
Huge trout leaping at the sunlight's fading,
In time with the spinning of the planet.
I stand on the edge of the sandy spit,
Landing big brown, my Coachman in his jaw.
For one moment a cold and useless law
Flashes in his eye and dims his spirit.
I never know what happens in the end,
And won't until I find that river bend.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Mr. Burl, Sonnet #292

I call him, comically, Mr. Burl,
A cancerous growth on an ancient oak,
And though he's funny to my little girl,
He is an alien evil. No joke.
For millennia the trees have captured
Invaders and frozen them in bark
And cambium, (their faces enraptured
Or agonized), inescapable arks
For all creatures from the limitless dark.
Sometimes an arm or ear is all that's left,
Arrested by constricting branches' cleft.
The oldest trees are often body casts
Of whole monsters, stifling their vicious blasts --
Our sentinels while the invasion lasts.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Three Worlds (Escher), Sonnet #291

The Koi sees, as we do, what's there,
Not the water, nor we, the air.
He hates the acid stink of leaves,
And how they choke his house's eaves.
Someday they will all disappear;
With one world gone, two seem clearer.
I count five kinds of leaves, or six,
But the trees have similar sticks.
I blame the wind for having blown,
Adding the errant to the known.
I see four worlds, though, not three;
Yes, the leaf, the pond, and the tree --
And the wakefulness of the Koi.
When he looks up here, he'll see me.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Knight Vanquishing Time, Death, and Monstrous Demons (Philips Wouwerman), Sonnet #290

The hourglass-helmed soldier with a pike
Stabs the fetlocks of the knight's white stallion.
That motherless bastard will always strike
From behind. His eye a peeling onion,
His heart and lungs a single ganglion,
He's more fearful than a death or demon.
The knight takes on all enemies, evil
Or not -- even the ovum and semen
Embedded in the bones of the just dead.
The crown an angel holds bears his free will,
Though he would sooner wear Time's severed head.
When all is vanquished and night descends,
The corpses rise -- spinning slowly, spinning still.
With nothing left to slay, the knight's life ends.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Fateful Hour At Quarter to Twelve (Klee), Sonnet # 289

The waxing quarter moon, a pendulum,
Swings from eleven ten to forty-six,
Its math always slightly wrong in sum,
Its path a leaning gravity can't fix.
We stand beneath the clock-faced obelisk
And with tiny leaps try to grasp the disc.
I knew a witch once who wore sunglasses
When the hour's two hands approached midnight.
She said it had nothing to do with light,
But the way the dark turned to molasses.
She feared nothing more than the coming day,
Except its damn'd tendency to stay.
We're sleeping now with no time to time out,
Or a moon to wane, or a dream to doubt.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Creation of the Birds (Remedios Varo), Sonnet #288

The owl's facial disks concentrate sound;
Her deep-set eyes see darkness as daylight.
What she eats is terrified to be found
And will starve itself to stay out of sight.
How can she be the creator of flight,
Of song, wood, and water birds, and raptors?
She writes with music and paints with the moon,
And tolerates a mechanical goon,
Because it soothes her destructive raptures.
From the condor to the tiniest wren,
All fowl suffer the tattoo of her pen.
An idea she can't set free, she captures.
On her breast rests an ancient violin
With strings that sing only in Avian.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Personage Throwing a Stone at a Bird (Miro), Sonnet #287

Personage! Oh, you personage, you.
Beluga-pale, belly button-eyed bonze.
You deep. Your lipless brains all tempered bronze.
What you won't do to be no parvenu.
I know, the hot sands blister your five toes,
And where the other five are no one knows.
A shoe, a tie, a scrap of clean clothing
Might mitigate universal loathing
Of your base beginnings and low learning
And quell your bowels' insistent churning.
Now don't, I warn you. I know you have heard
Desperate deeds oft undermine men's minds --
Wiped clean, they eagerly embrace all kinds.
But we'll hate you hard if you stone that bird!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Northern Harrier Hawk (Audubon), Sonnet #286

The Red-tail tracks the field mouse by its pee
With eyes that see inside nothing to see.
At one hundred and twenty miles an hour
It dives from great heights to clutch and devour.

But the Harrier doesn’t hunt by surprise.
She intimidates and terrorizes.
I've watched her, the golden chest and white rump,
Wings broad and balletically whirling pump,
Cross and cross low the same small field of grain,
Crash to the ground, then hunt the field again.
I first saw her flying straight at my eyes.
She must not have seen my human disguise.

Steering around me as she would a pole,
She dropped behind me and swallowed a vole.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Night Fishing at Antibes (Picasso), Sonnet #285

The Spanish mackerel and the flounder
Are not deceived by the fishermen's globes.
Let's ask if they seek to die by the spear.
Raging, the spinning hot moon founders,
And the old Mediterranean sphere
Of dead tides rolls as scaly fish disrobe.
The old Neptunian fraud has blown his top,
While two young ladies lick their lollipop.
Of course, they have a cycle for escape,
And it's water, not men, uproar, not rape.
They seek the tingle trill of the near miss,
A bad man's rough caress but thrilling kiss.
They bike off when all goes drowsy and still.
The fishermen sigh . . . return to the kill.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Night Wind (Charles Burchfield), Sonnet #284

The night wind turns the yard chimes into knells.
The chimney will topple into the yard.
The air the wind strikes, permanently scarred,
Seeks the oak knot where the screech owl yells.
The night wind lull lasts for hours, humming
In the pines and fooling crows into sleep.
The squirrel cringes in his leafy keep,
Ready for the coming vast summoning.
The night wind turns all windows into eyes,
Blindless and staring at the nothingness,
Invisible until it caresses
(Like light) a thing -- a branch that screams and sighs.
The night wind beseeches me to come out
To play with him -- still nervousness and doubt.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Freight Train (Charles Burchfield), Sonnet #283

Our frozen January bends the rails the trains
Straighten as they go at one, three and four A.M.
I'm awake as I am each night at this hour
Anticipating the hot whistle blast refrains
At three crossing barriers, each warning the same,
To stop this beast for you is beyond my power . . .
We knew the day of the hobo would soon return,
Just as they once jumped off to camp on an island
Two miles upstream from the old house, to strip and burn
Whole trees each night to warm and cook for a thousand.
I can't imagine (believe in) the engineer,
A life devoted to go, to stop, and to fear.
He must have dozed just now because I cannot hear
A sound but the thump of freight cars rolling nearer.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Big Fish Eat Little Fish (Hieronymus de Cock), Sonnet #282

My daughters called him Sam, the four pound trout.
When they hooked a smaller fish, Sam followed,
(Unseen but anticipated), then swallowed.
They laughed and pulled until he spit it out.
Fish eat their own species. Bass in a pond
Will empty dark waters of their own kind
Until the largest is also the last.
It will slowly, stealthily, hunt beyond
What it can see until it becomes blind
With hunger, then start swimming very fast.
Some lures they call plugs look like little fish.
Does a pike with hooks in its jaw shimmy
In agony, or shiver in ecstasy,
The water gods having granted its wish?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Orion in Winter (Charles Burchfield), Sonnet #281

Tonight the stars sleep with their eyes open --
The only way they can see each other.
Orion hunts with eternal hoping
As he was taught by his Gorgon mother.
The stag was belly-shot miles back and stares,
The constellation swirling in his eyes.
No one stepped out beneath the winter skies
To follow his blood beneath its bright flares
To end his agony with guns. He dies,
Ascends to run with lions, wolves, and bears.
Furious Orion ropes nearby stars
And lashes up his celestial car.
He'll drive it hard to the home of his birth
And hunt to death every man on earth.

Note: In Greek mythologyOrion was a gigantic, supernaturally
strong hunter, born to Euryale, a Gorgonand Poseidon (Neptune).
It is said he once boasted that he would kill every animal in the